I’ve been meaning to write about this for awhile now, but I got sick and had other things going on that I kept forgetting.
One of the things thats very frustrating about teaching in Korea is how they treat disabilities, especially learning differences in school. I can’t speak for the entire country, but I have hear a lot of discussion about it from other teachers so I feel I can generally say these students are not treated well here. They don’t get extra services, and are pretty much just ignored in the classroom. It’s really sad and frustrating to see.
My school is really big (over 1000 students). I only teach the 5th and 6th graders, and out of those classes, I’ve only encountered three students with various degrees of learning differences. One of the 6th graders is the hardest to see. He sits at a desk at the front of the classroom alone, and pretty much just sleeps or smiles the whole time and does not speak or participate. He’s ignored by everyone. One of my 5th graders is very smart, and always speaks to me in English, but has a very hard time staying still and is constantly up out of his seat or distracted by something or someone. All he needs is a little redirection though and he’s fine. The other 5th grader sits at the front of the class, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out what to do about him. He never seems to know what’s going on, sleeps, or just does not participate or mocks me. My co-teachers always just tell me, “He’s slow, don’t worry about him”, and they never make him do the work, or call on him in class. The other students call him “crazy” which is a very offensive thing to call someone in Korea. One day a few weeks ago, I just decided it was time to get him to partipate in class, and I was determined to get through to him somehow.
Most of the time I’m in class with my co-teachers I don’t have much to do. I do a short introduction, and then the rest of the class I just sit or walk around until they need me to say something or “lead” an activity. I decided I was going to sit next to this kid and see if I could help him. I figured even if I could keep him from falling asleep, that would be a step in the right direction. First, I wanted to learn his name. I’ve been horrible with the names here and only know a few of my students names. I pointed to myself and told him my name, and then I pointed to him and he said “Cho-an”. I pointed back at myself, but stayed silent and he said my name again. We did this back and forth a few times, and he was smiling. Then, I started point at different pictures in the book and saying what they were. These particular pictures happened to be food. Then, on his own he started to point to things and saying what they were in English. I was impressed! He knew a lot more than I thought. So, I drew a smiley face on his paper to show him he did a good job, and he pointed to it and said “smile”. After that it just got better. I encouraged him to raise his hand to repeat words and phrases in class. Everyone praised him and he got so excited. A couple days later, I did the same thing but I let him do more on his own. He actually raised his hand to participate without my prompting. Everyone clapped and cheered for him, and again he was so excited and motivated. It was truly amazing. He’s really smart, but nobody really gives him a chance, and if he had someone there to help him and encourage him I think he would really thrive in the classroom. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen for him. For now, I’ll do what I can when I get the chance!
In other news…My Wednesday co-teacher has a cute little daughter (see picture from Sports Day), and today I asked her if she taught her daughter English. She said a little bit…things like the alphabet and animals, etc. Then, she asked me if I would be interested in teaching her daughter a few times a week. So, starting next week I will tutor her from 4-4:30 on MWF. I’m pretty excited about it. I never thought I would say it, but I miss working with little kids! I can’t wait to start planning fun things to teach her!